• WHAT: Jessop Farms U-Pick Blueberries
• WHERE: 21386 S. Murphy Road, Ripon, just north of River Road east of both Manteca and Ripon
• WHEN: Monday through Saturday through the second week of July from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
• COST: $2.75 per pound for blueberries and $1.75 per pound for strawberries (they provide buckets and carry home packages)
• MORE INFO: Visit their website at www.jessopfarms.com or view their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jessopfarms or call 824-0341
RIPON – Jeremiah Hinkle clutched his bucket tight as he maneuvered between the rows of blueberries, picking the biggest ones he could find.
With his five-year-old brother Elijah in tow, Hinkle – all three feet of him – had instantly become a professional scavenger as he exuberantly picked away at the bushes and filled the maroon pail with the antioxidant rich fruit that requires extra special nurturing and care to grow in the Central Valley.
It was just another day for a family at Ripon’s Jessop Farms – a you-pick blueberry and strawberry patch on Murphy Road that has become increasingly popular with farm fresh fruit fans from all over Northern California.
“My cousin brought her kids out here and said that they had a great time so we thought we would give it a try,” said Christine Hinkle – who pushed an empty stroller between the rows while her two young boys bounded around. “It seems like great family fun, and the kids get so excited when they find the big blueberries. It’s great to watch.”
When Loren Jessop first bought the farm the field that the blueberries now occupy was initially full of sickly almond trees that he had removed – opening the door to plant anything what he wanted.
Being from Michigan where blueberry growth is common, he hatched a business plan where he could tend the soil to add the nutrients and the organic matter that the delicate bushes need in order to grow his own berries. He initially hoped to get them into processing plants the same way that almond growers in the region do after harvest.
But with very specific pesticide mandates, Jessop opted to go a different and much more natural route with the you-pick system. He has watched his business grow dramatically over the course of the last three years.
“We get customers from Sacramento, Fresno and the Bay Area,” Jessop said. “People enjoy the family atmosphere that they can take advantage of when they come out here and go pick with their kids. And with social networking sites like Facebook, all it takes is one person to share that they had a good experience out here and 200 other people now know about it.”
Growing blueberries, however, presents a few challenges given the Central Valley’s specific soil conditions and climate.
Jessop says that highly organic moist soil is necessary, and by planting specific blueberry bushes he’s able to get around the extremely high temperatures that the valley experiences during the summer.
And by adding half-an-acre of strawberries – one of the biggest hits this year – the family has added another dimension to the business that the customers can enjoy for years to come. Future plans call for expanding the strawberry field to an acre next season.
At the end of the day, he says, all of the work that it takes to get everything up and running pays off when he sees a family smiling and laughing as they traverse the rows – especially when it’s a multi-generational outing.
“One of the things that I enjoy is when I see grandparents and they talk about how they used to go out and pick blueberries with their parents, and now they have their grandchildren with them,” he said. “They actually start to tear up a little bit that. That’s really what I love most about doing this. “
They also have a koi pond, putt-putt green, bounce house, and picnic area.
Jessop Farms is located 21386 Murphy Road, and is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The site will be open through the second week of July. Their blueberries are available at both the Manteca and Ripon’s Farmers Markets, and several of the fruit stands along State Highway 120. For more information, visit their website at www.jessopfarms.com or view their facebook page at www.facebook.com/jessopfarms. They can also be reached at (209) 824-0341.